How To Avoid Hiring Your Company’s Next Brilliant Jerk

Insights -

Regardless of size, maturity, or industry, businesses and organizations face one near-universal business challenge: finding and hiring the right people. Given that people run your business, interact with your customers, and generate the ideas and innovative solutions to help your business grow, hiring the right people is essential to short term and long term success.

We’ve heard it over and over again from hiring managers and business leaders—and experienced it ourselves—hiring the right people is a continual challenge. Here’s why:

  • It’s difficult to really know who a person is from just a resume, referrals, and/or an interview. Job candidates today are often seasoned and well coached. They know how to game the system and appear to be just the person you’re looking for with perfected and memorized responses to the standard “Tell me a time when…” interview questions.
  • When dealing with people it’s a challenge to be unbiased, which means subjectivity often rules the day. Picture this: In the final round of interviews, the VP gives his or her okay on a candidate. You onboard them and only later learn the VP gave the “had a good feeling” thumbs up because they like the same baseball team or went to the same summer camp. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, these commonalities tell you absolutely nothing about how a candidate will perform or work with colleagues – or even anything about their “fit” with your organizational culture.  Another significant pitfall is that It can also lead to hiring in one’s own image, which results in homogeneous workplaces that don’t have the benefit of diversitya key component of innovation. Diversity also happens to make us smarter.
  • Soft skills are more important than ever, but just as difficult as ever to assess while  interviewing job candidates. According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report, social skills like persuasion, emotional intelligence, and the ability to teach others will be in increasingly higher demand than technical (hard) skills. Interview prompts like “Tell us your five-year plan” show only that a candidate has thought ahead and planned a response. They do not measure the game-changing intangibles such as being a good coach, listening well, being a critical thinker and problem solver, or having empathy—all of which Google found are the most important skills for an employee to have.  

With the very nature of work changing, hiring managers and talent leaders need to be able to screen candidates for these new in-demand soft skills. This requires going beyond the resume, mitigating biases and subjectivity, and creating interview environments that test for those must-have intangibles.

Hiring the Right People – And Avoiding “Brilliant Jerks” – Is More Important Than Ever

Although it’s critical that companies and organizations find and hire the right candidates with the skills that will help them adapt and innovate, most are still using traditional interview methods and questions. The new and modern economy requires novel and innovative hiring tactics. To build creative, intelligent, and collaborative teams, it’s essential that hiring managers and business leaders figure out:

  • How to avoid “hiring in my own image” bias.
  • How to see through the charms, savvy, and first impressions of over-prepared candidates.
  • How to make sure a candidate possesses the right mix of soft skills that are going to help your company achieve great things.
  • How to assess if candidates have the ability and capacity to grow and change as your company does.

If you can avoid all of these pitfalls, you greatly increase the chances that you’ll also avoid hiring your company’s next brilliant jerk.

brilliant jerk hiring improv netflix reed hastings

In this new age of business, we’re learning that a winning-at-all-costs attitude and non-diverse groupthink approach doesn’t always (or often) win: Brilliant jerks can sometimes do more harm than good. Diversity and respect for the individual are possibly better roads to success. Case in point: Netflix, which disrupted the movie rental industry and continues to change how we consume television, has a zero-tolerance policy for brilliant jerks. “The cost to effective teamwork is too high,” says Reed Hastings, Netflix’s CEO. Alternatively, we’ve all watched the roller coaster that is Uber, culminating in the resignation of its CEO, Travis Kalanick, last year spurred by legal and ethical scandals and claims of the company culture being a toxic “boys club.” And what company wouldn’t want to avoid the bad publicity (and lawsuit) Google is undergoing because one of their engineers refused to embrace the company’s attempts to improve diversity and inclusion?

One Answer: Incorporate Improv Into Your Hiring Process

By complementing your existing behavioral and group interview processes with techniques from improvisation, you can mitigate the hiring pitfalls detailed above and limit the potential for the next brilliant jerk to damage your company’s reputation and profits. Here’s why:

improv hiring brilliant jerks

  • Improv is all about soft skills. In improv, your job is to accept and build on what your fellow actors are putting out on stage. It’s very much a “Yes, and …” approach. The very core of improv is radical agreement, collaboration, and agility: reading your teammates, responding in a productive and creative way, and pivoting as the situation evolves. Using an improv session component during the hiring process requires candidates to actually use – and show – their soft skills rather than talking about them in response to behavioral or situational questions.
  • Improv doesn’t allow time or space for self-censorship. When designed carefully for use in organizations, improv sessions encourage and require participants to be their true selves. Because improv requires responding in the moment, it limits the time, opportunity, and reasons for a job candidate to self-censor. Without the self-censorship and posturing that is encouraged by the traditional hiring process, you get a much better picture of a candidate’s true personality and how they will react to real-life professional obstacles and opportunities.
  • Improv simulates real-world situations. Because an improv for hiring session requires a person to respond without much thought or self-censorship to simulated real-world situations, it can give you a much better idea of how a candidate will act when they inevitably encounter a similar situation on the job—much more so than the classic “Tell me a time when …” behavioral interview questions.
  • Improv focuses on the now over the past. Most job interviews and the questions asked during them focus on the past: “What is your greatest achievement?” or “In your last job …?” or “What has been your biggest challenge?” Although you can’t truly predict how a candidate will perform in the future, how they perform in the present is the best indicator of what they will do. An improv-based assessment, because it requires spontaneous action in the present, can better provide that information than behavioral questions about the past.

7 Questions Improv Can Help Answer About Your Candidate

improv hiring brilliant jerk
  1. Is the candidate capable of building on others’ ideas? Or does he or she deny others’ ideas in favor of their own?
  2. Is the candidate comfortable pivoting when things don’t go as planned? How do they react and respond?
  3. Does the candidate collaborate effectively with others when faced with uncertainty and ambiguity?
  4. How does the candidate respond and react when encountering obstacles? Do they demonstrate grit and adaptability? Or do they shut down and/or blame the circumstances or people around them?
  5. Do the candidate’s values align with your company culture?
  6. Is the candidate capable of bringing their true, full selves to work? Are they comfortable being vulnerable and showing humility?
  7. Does the candidate demonstrate any “brilliant jerk” tendencies?

By borrowing relevant strategies and tactics from improv and using them to complement and enhance existing hiring and screening processes, we can better get to the heart of who people really are—and how they will act—before they are hired

Want to make your hiring practices better with improv?
Coonoor Behal
written by

Coonoor Behal

Coonoor Behal is Founder & CEO of Mindhatch, and an experienced and recognized business strategy and innovation consultant with focused expertise in design thinking, improvisation, and innovation facilitation.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *